The Internet Personified: Conjugations
Learning German and becoming German
My polite persimmons,
Welcome to all new subscribers! I have no idea how you found me (magic? links in bio?) especially at such a quiet time for me, but welcome nonetheless. This is my very personal newsletter which I send out periodically—sometimes when I’m feeling very chatty, once a week, but other times, like this one, once every two or three weeks. Think of it as a super long letter from me to you, and if you don’t know know me yet, don’t worry, you soon will. (She says, threateningly…)
Berlin COVID rules have just changed as of this weekend. Now they’re saying if you want to go to a bar or a restaurant, you have to have both vax doses plus either a booster shot or a test. This is a great way to get a lot of people to take the booster, as we did early this month. This time our vax centre was this mall, a short walk from our house, we went up in the lift with people going to the gym next door, and emerged into a official-looking area, where we filled in forms and waited. No choice of vaccine this time: if you were under 35 and/or pregnant you got Pfizer, over and not got Moderna. Being neither of those things, I got my third Moderna, and for those of you keeping track at home my fourth vaccine since last summer. That combined with the fact that I might very well have had COVID some time last year, means that I feel pretteeee good. Pretteeee immune, all in all, but let’s not tempt fate. I go to the little test centre down the road for my free rapid test about once a week, it’s an old nail bar turned COVID testing centre so it’s all pink with a gold rotary phone and neon lights spelling out NAIL BAR just above the head of the guy who twirls the little stick in my nose and puts it on the strip. It’s all very Class 9 chemistry experiment.
Language Lessons Part II or wow German is hard
I need to get tested every week because I’ve started language classes again. This time I’m in a class of almost all women, and we’re studying German A2.1, which is so much harder than the class I did earlier. A1.1 was all about learning how to introduce yourself and saying basic things: am I married? Do I have children? What do I do for a living and so on. In A2, the dreaded Akkusativ comes in, so it’s no longer “where do you live?” but “where are you going?” the answer to which is both a harder sentence to formulate but also depends on these itty bitty little changes of grammar which are crucially important to make yourself understood. For instance, everything in German has a gender, as you probably know: the table is male, the lamp is female, the bed is neutral and so on. But if you are putting something on the table, or near the lamp or hanging it off the wall, you have to remember which gender goes with which thing and then tweak that to a completely different word to indicate what you’re doing. And that’s just when things stay still. When you’re moving an object from point A to point B, you must also remember the gender, but with new rules forthwith. I know the rules okay, as you can see, but putting them into practise is a whole other thing which I’m not sure I’m going to master in the two weeks my course has left. Oh well. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the German language is notoriously difficult with all sorts of random rules so you can be like the Germans, super specific about exactly what you mean and what you want.
One interesting thing I learnt though was that “my friend” (and of course the Germans have a different word for my “male friend” and my “female friend” although no word yet for my “gender neutral friend” although you can indicate that in writing) always refers to a romantic partner. If you’re just going to a party with a friend who you have zero romantic interest in, you say “this is a friend” and everyone gets it. Cool, huh?
I also learnt how to frame a “because” sentence, like “why are you so sad?” “because I have no friends here” sob sob, which I guess is useful, but hard for an English speaker because you’d construct the sentence like this in German: because I no friends here have.
In case you’ve never learnt one of the European languages before, the A2 etc I refer to are part of something called the CEFR levels, that is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which is a sort of broad strokes generalisation of where you should expect to be after each level. A2 is “can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters” which I guess is all the “put the telephone on the table near the chair” stuff that we’ve been banging on about.
A funny thing has happened though. Suddenly I can understand SO MUCH German, like it was a coconut and I’m able to extract all the meat. Our teacher speaks it exclusively in class and fast too, but when it comes to forming a sentence, my brain just sputters between connections. Isn’t that strange? To be able to understand so much and say so little? A little like a pet, I suppose.
The return of a room of one’s own
German efficiency, the famous everyone’s-always-quoting-it “German efficiency” is mostly a myth, I’m learning sadly as I live here. The thing about Germans? Is that they like to do as little work as possible so everything is built for convenience. The supermarket is filled with examples of this: you buy your fresh bread and you put it in the bread slicer, conveniently located right under the loaves, you choose what sort of thickness you’d like and shink-shink-shink, your morning toast is all sliced and ready for you. Okay but, you’d argue, isn’t that efficiency? And I’d still argue that it’s laziness that drove them to invent all these wonderful time saving things. Miss your train? Don’t worry, another will be along in three minutes, unless it’s the weekend, then you’re slightly fucked. Our shower curtain rod has these adjustable ends so you just stick it on the wall, adjust the length and it stays, no need to drill holes or anything. Being a very lazy person myself, I appreciate all the ways Germany’s like “no it’s fiiine, chill, there’s a super easy way to do this.”
However, when it comes to human effort and human labour, it’s not great. Getting an appointment with say, a handyman, could take any amount of time from “it’ll be done tomorrow” to “I’ll come between five and ten after March 10th on any possible weekday so make sure and be home for me or you’ve missed me again.” Our building has a lift which hasn’t worked in four months because they’re “waiting for parts.” And when we tried to buy a fridge off Amazon it took about the length of time that we’ve been living here. The first fridge we ordered was in December, about a week before Christmas and Germany pretty much shuts down for Christmas, so we thought fine, after Christmas we’ll get a delivery date, which didn’t happen, so then we waited for the first Monday following New Year’s Eve and still no update so we cancelled that fridge, and bought another which was also supposed to arrive in two or three days, but the delivery date kept moving along and the fridge didn’t. All this meant that the enclosed balcony—the “winter garden”—where I planned to write, which already had my desk set up was a sort of walk-in fridge, because we closed the door to the living room, left the window open in this one and it was icy cold enough to keep our food from going totally bad.
Now we finally have a fridge, and because this kitchen was already built with cabinets and everything before we moved, we had to get a super specific under-counter without freezer one, which is why the hassle, and so I am back in my study, which faces a building and right now, it’s dark outside and all the lights in the building opposite are on, so I can see into each house as they can into ours. One is full of plants, the other has a man by the sink, a woman is pouring out her pasta water as she makes dinner, it’s all very Rear Window. I love watching them, is that creepy? I have a great view of the street too, my fishbowl study is all windows so I can see people going back and forth and sometimes I notice their fashion if it’s exciting, but really, I’m most interested in other people’s dogs.
Where are you all going? I want to shout at all the pedestrians, Where do you go to my lovelies? You know the song.
Friends your own age
Long time readers of this newsletter may remember that back in the summer I joined this Facebook group called Berlin: Girls Gone International. (If you don’t remember, don’t worry, here’s a link to that newsletter just to refresh your memory.) Anyway, here I was, and still medium-friendless, not quite as friend-ful as I was in Delhi, shall we say. So I lurked on the group but I wasn’t seeing much of interest until a woman posted about wanting to meet people maybe around her own age, which was 37.
Wait a minute, I thought, I’d like to meet people my own age too! It gets harder, you guys. I mean, when you’re new, it seems like all the other new people are in their twenties. Everyone who is your contemporary is already settled in, already with jobs, and friends groups and maybe kids, even, so they don’t have much time to play with you, let alone become your new instant bff.
So I commented on the post, got added to a Telegram group and made my way across the city that weekend—K was away visiting his parents—to meet a group of women, all my age or thereabouts. It was great, and I made one really good friend (already!) out of it, so see, put yourself out there if you’re in the same situation as I am.
BUT re: putting yourself out there. It is TOUGH. I understand. I’m no shrinking violet, and yet I’m still daunted. It’s a lot of taking the initiative and messaging first and being okay with rejection and trying again next week and so on. It’s like dating, but also not like dating, because all you’re hoping to get from the evening is some personal connection.
If you read that old post, I mention how I’m very curious about someone who goes around the city tagging it with “Clit.” I got so fascinated by the end of the summer, I was looking out for the tag wherever I went. Well, it turns out Clit Person almost definitely lives somewhere around here. All down our road I see “clit,” across the station walls and even on ATMs sometimes. I think their style is evolving too—they used to just write “clit” in black and leave it at that, now they’re doing funky 3D lettering, playing with perspective and I’m quite proud of them, I’ve got to say. I mean, it’s still quite ugly, Clit Person is no street artist, but it feels like I’ve found an old friend.
Related: a lot of the stuff we have for the flat is either free from someone, second-hand from someone, or literally taken from the curb, and one of those taken from the curb things was an old Ikea shoe cupboard (Germans are like Indians, no shoes inside the house) and someone had already tagged it before K picked it up from the road. Sadly not Clit Person, though how great would that have been?
If you liked this post, or any of my others, would you consider buying me a coffee? It helps keep me encouraged and also keeps this project freeeeeee for everyone.
A few things I enjoyed reading recently:
Kottke’s “Things I learned in 2021” list.
Inside one of India’s biggest influencer families.
You probably already know Wordle, but I’m obsessed.
And some newsletters I enjoy:
Have a great week! Speak soon, email me back or leave a comment so we can chat.
Who are you? Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, writer of internet words (and other things) author of seven books (support me by buying a book!) and general city-potter-er.
Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. (Plus my book recommendation Instagram!)
Got sent this newsletter? Sign up here to subscribe!
Forward to your friends if you liked this and to whoever decided OBJECTS must have GENDERS if you didn’t.
Also, write back to me! I love to hear from you.